Our church went through an “intentional interim” period prior to my arrival. I heard about some of the steps they went through in understanding their identity, denominational relationships, the role of women in the church, and the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message, among other things. I commend the church for doing this, as too many congregations opt for a preacher and/or someone to visit the hospitals and do funerals. While these are important matters, churches should also determine their personality so that the next pastor will know what to expect. I was fortunate in this regard.
One of the first things I dealt with related to folks who weren’t quite satisfied with the church’s view of the Bible. Apparently, this discontent surfaced in a letter circulated among the congregation a year or two before my arrival. A frustrated church member said that “there was a Bible church on the mountain, and a non-Bible church on the mountain.” Evidently he thought his church was the latter. I was amazed that someone would speak so harshly about their congregation, but that’s what some folks do when their viewpoints don’t carry the day. Anyway, I found out that there was indeed a “Bible” church on the mountain and this was the point of comparison.
Usually, churches who have the word “Bible” in their title are non-denominational in nature. Ironically, one of our members who left us for this particular congregation is very supportive of the Southern Baptist Convention, yet the Bible church does not affiliate with the SBC. I found this decision very peculiar, in that he was very vocal in his support of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and SBC missions. There are many good churches on the mountain that aren’t Baptist, and I’m sure this is one of them, but it doesn’t make sense to leave a church that would allow you to give to the SBC in favor of one that doesn’t. But, I’ve learned that there are many things with church work that don’t add up.
I get a little chapped when folks say we aren’t a “Bible” church and fortunately that little rumor weed has been rooted out. Churches take their cue from their pastors, and the same seems to be true here. I have a very high view of Scripture, and spend more of my time preaching it and trying to live by it than defending it. The reason some folks may accuse a church like ours of not being a “Bible church” is that we have taken the job of biblical interpretation seriously rather than literally. We affirm and encourage our members to come to the Bible with an open mind and open heart under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We take into consideration the historical, cultural, political, and social conditions of the biblical text. For example, preachers who hammer down on women being subservient in the home and church don’t say much about slaves being obedient to their masters, yet both notions are in the Bible. The problem is that there is too much inconsistency with regard to what is viewed as prescriptive and what is descriptive.
It’s one thing to say we disagree on interpretation, it’s another thing to say that because you don’t agree with my position “you just don’t believe the Bible.” There are many church goers who simply want to be told what to believe rather than do the hard work of learning on their own. We have a variety of views represented in our congregation, and each of these positions comes from people who believe the Bible. To be honest, I’d rather spend my time living out what the Bible says than debating differences of opinion. The church has spent too much time majoring on minors rather than finding ways to cooperate with one another for the sake of the gospel. The most biblical thing you can do is live out your faith and share the love of Christ. Some of the most mean-spirited and judgmental folks I have known would claim to believe the Bible more than I do. These kinds of church-goers give Christianity a bad name and I really wouldn’t want to be associated with them.
So, the answer is “YES!” We are a Bible church and part of that identity means being Baptist. Baptists are definitely Bible people. We read it, study it, and try to understand it. Oftentimes we’ve fought over it. The Pharisees did that sort of thing, and look at how Jesus rebuked them for their legalistic ways. I have found a good measuring rod in the 1963 Baptist Faith & Message under the Scripture section that says that Jesus Christ is the criterion for interpretation. That may not say everything about hermeneutics, but it does say enough. I would rather be known as a church that lifts up Jesus than a church that doesn’t practice what it preaches.